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May 31 2009

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse: 21st century Neo-Gothic. An interesting angle on the series which includes, but is by no means limited to, the suggestion that it is "in a sense, more 'feminine' than Whedonís earlier Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Very interesting article. I always thought that the Hyperion Hotel added a very Gothic element to Angel, but I wouldn't have thought of the Dollhouse as being so.

One thing though:

Echo, in various personae, does BDSM as both top and bottom.

Claire specifically states that they never send actives to be submissives.
ShanshuBugaboo, I was just about to say the same thing. :)
props to the author for making the connection! Hadn't made it myself despite having recently dipped back into some old materials on the subject. The author is right about the major tropes mentioned. Kind of odd that he mostly tries to make his argument using texts kinda peripheral to the gothic novel canon (Uncle Tom's Cabin and Clarissa, while, sure, having some commonalities, are pretty far from being emblematatic of the heavy hitters that really created the tropes of the genre) and I'll bet the points could be made even more effectively with Walpole or Shelley or one of the Brontes, but, since this seems kinda like notes toward a bigger project, that is easily forgivable.

sidenote: looking for a cool, accessible take on the major gothic tropes? Guillermo del Toro does great work describing them in his commentary track to "Devil's Backbone" -- would have used his movie and commentary back when teaching this kinda thing.

sidenote 2: gotta take off style points for unnecessarily dragging in codependency as a character shorthand, and would say that, while the BDSM link to the gothic is certainly demonstrable, it's kinda like trying to shove two essays into one to riff on it here.
@streetartist

Hah, yeah, it's actually a bit of a shame, because being a submissive is probably much more interesting, character-wise. I get why it would be much more of a risk though.

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2009-05-31 02:03 ]
Printy the Imprint Chair, and everything surrounding its use, unmistakably evokes Frankenstein, especially the old Universal Studios take on the tale: Lightning, long shadows, tortured groans. Thought-provoking article, and embedded within it one perfect sentence:

"The ice queen who runs the house canít help fishing off the company pier."

Mixed metaphors aside, that just tickles me.
I had definitely felt that Joss was skating close to Frankenstein imagery with the imprint chair, particularly in Alpha's laboratory, but it is true that even in the Dollhouse you can see Topher as rather Igor like. And in reading this I start to see Adelle as the Queen of the Damned, with her vampire minors (instead of their blood having been sucked, their brains have been). Echo makes a very credible Gothic heroine, but instead of being pursued by just one lecher she has an unending number of customers wanting to control her. Yeah, I like this article a lot.
Excellent article indeed. You know, I can see why Joss fell so in love with this story. There're so many directions he can take it. Oh gosh, really looking forward to season two.
Interesting, if odd article. I was very confused when I first started reading it and it was talking about 'gothic' and it didn't seem at all familar, then I realized I am far more used to Southern gothic style than traditional gothic. A quick wiki search cleared my confusion up.

Not sure if I agree with everything the article says (Ballard, while brutal, is not thuggish... that implies a lack of intelligence, at least to me). And I would argue that the fighting is way more 'awesome', for lack of a better word, in Dollhouse than in Buffy (though of course Dollhouse has yet to top many of the iconic fights, the average fight of Dollhouse, especially with Ballard, is way more brutal than the average Buffy fight). Still, nice to see a positive article, and a genre study one at that.
Oh wow. I just read Frankenstein this year in school, and somehow never connected it to Dollhouse. And now that I have, its really interesting. Topher really does not take responsibilty for Alpha the same way that Frankenstein does not take responsibilty for his monster. Huh. I wonder why I like Topher so much more than I did Frankenstein?
While I wouldn't call Ballard "thuggish," I would say his tactics are a bit "brutish" and some people would say the line between those two descriptions is somewhat thin. But considering all the turmoil Paul went through over the course of the season, his slippery sloping methods at attempting to uncover the Dollhouse become more understandable the further downward his spiral of paranoia goes.
While the article is an interesting perspective on Dollhouse as a gothic text, I'm not sure I'd entirely agree that it is more feminine. Psychological and emotional struggle have always been at the center of every series that Joss has done and I find it slightly puzzling that these would be considered "feminine" struggles when they are in fact universally human.

I think the feminist streak is still there, but his canvas is wider. The focus is now squarely on the nature of power inequality as a part of human nature. A view in which sexism is only a part, but not the whole.

Edited for excessive comma usage and for a new and improved metaphor!

[ edited by azzers on 2009-05-31 04:39 ]
Agreed azzers, I really am not sure how Buffy's struggle was less internal. I see Joss as telling human, not just female, or feminist, stories. If anything isn't that sexist to say that outright violence is less feminine? If there is one thing that Joss has proved over and over again, that you can be a very attractive woman and still kick ass. :)

CrazyKidBen, I do agree that his tactics are brutal, that's why I really like him as a character. ;) But to me, a thug works for someone else doing bad things, without reason. Ballard is far more intelligent and driven than the sort I would classify as thugs.
I don't really see Ballard as especially intelligent...but I agree that "thug" is the wrong word. I'd go with belligerent (except for the finale, where it appears that he starts to see 'the bigger picture'.)
I think - and I'm probably wrong here - but I think the author actually intended specifically "feminine" vs "masculine" rather than *feminist*. Inward-reflective rather than outward-agressive.
For the record, he did say feminine. So you're absolutely correct kalia. My original post point was about the "feminine" comment and that I disagreed with it. Feminist actually comes up in different posts from time to time and I just threw it in there because I didn't want to imply that my disagreement with Dollhouse being "feminine" meant that I didn't think there was a bit of feminist subtext to it.

But again, my point is that inward-reflective and outward-aggressive are not gender specific. They are universally human personality types. Using the author's assumption that anything psychological or emotional was "feminine", every great drama ...ever... would be feminine. I would find this surprising, since many great dramatic works were written by men about other men. And the statement seems to imply that masculine means only Wayans Bros. comedies and the Rambo sequels.

The masculine stereotype is really that a man buries his feelings or makes them inaccessible to others, not that he doesn't have them.

[ edited by azzers on 2009-05-31 07:12 ]
The idea of the Dollhouse as a castle (from Briar Rose) would fit neatly into this theory. That said, I think the gothic links are coincidental
On the feminine / masculine question I'm not sure if this is what the writer was going for but people who study gothic lit often draw a distinction between masculine gothic (horror) and feminine gothic (terror). An example of asculine gothic is Matthew Lewis's 'The Monk' which has lots of blood and guts. A classic feminine gothic writer is Anne Radcliffe. Her stuff is basically spooky things (ppl seeing ghosts etc) but not much actual gore.
Ah - azzers, I get what you're saying. My stepfather has drilled into my head "feminine" being used to mean that regardless of the physical gender of the person; feminine is the trait, female the gender. Thus I don't ever read "feminine" as being a female thing (nor "feminine" traits being a negative thing for a man to possess).
I'd say Buffy season 2 had the edge on gothic-ness (is that even a word) over Dollhouse season 1. Mainly because of Drusilla.
That's a good point. I hadn't looked at it from the literal "feminine gothic" perspective. And in that context, it definitely fits. But you'd have to know that term going in when you read the article or when the author uses it in that context it would go right by you. I'm living proof.
Tin Ear Tom said:
"Printy the Imprint Chair, and everything surrounding its use, unmistakably evokes Frankenstein, especially the old Universal Studios take on the tale: Lightning, long shadows, tortured groans."

Yes, and in a remake of "Young Frankenstein", Alan Tudyk would be perfect in Gene Wilder's part of "Doctor Frahnken-shteen"! Those wild eyes in his lair lab imprint sequence convinced me. And for the late Peter Boyle's part of The Monster, I submit Tahmoh Penikett!

[ edited by Riverine on 2009-05-31 12:36 ]

[ edited by Riverine on 2009-05-31 12:37 ]
Excellent article! I don't agree with it 100%, but it's a fascinating take on an angle I hadn't considered.

Only twelve eps so far, and look at all the rich material already in place for mining. Joss, you are still the man. :)
Great thread. With you ezzers, on the feminine/masculine Gothic designation. Thanks for the clarification, Let Down.
Simon, I think in this article they meant 'gothic' in terms of the literary style of writing where you have a set of expectations: virginal ingenue in a haunted mansion or castle being pursued by a lecherous older man, until eventually she is saved by a handsome young hero. This was a common popular genre novel form (actually it still is).

'Jane Eyre' is actually a play on that genre, only Charlotte Bronte set the expectations on their ear by having Jane decide to marry Mr. Rochester (the older lecher) instead of St. John (her priggish but young handsome hero). In 'Northamber Abbey' Jane Austen also wrote a gothic novel within a gothic novel, which is hilarious.

I think we could say that Joss has done enough here to hint us in the direction of the gothic novel genre: Topher remarks that Echo is virgin again, we imagine the rich old men who would request Echo's company, and we have seen the handsome 'hero' who hasn't quite gotten his act together to save her (but he saved November, maybe). There really is a lot of interesting layers to 'Dollhouse' and I am so thrilled we are going to get to return for more!
Mainly becauseof Drusilla

Hey!! You keep those paws off Dru! :)

Actually, me thinks it's more flowing into the BtVS season three theme. And yes, embers, this show has more layers than a wedding cake. Starting to feel that tingle in my toes, this story will be huge. Dancing on pins and needles again!
In 'Northamber Abbey' Jane Austen also wrote a gothic novel within a gothic novel, which is hilarious.

My god that's a funny book. I love the opening sentences which have so much fun ridiculing gothic novels. This is probably sacrilege but that's my favourite of the Jane Austen books I've read so far (Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensitivity)
This is a good read. I haven't read Northanger Abbey. Looks like I should, since I love Austen's humor.
Haha I meant Sense and Sensibility but as you can see I called it the Angel episode. I promise to do the reverse if I'm ever on Austenesque

And yeah, Sunfire, definitely check out Northanger Abbey. It seems a bit frowned on by a lot of people but I think there's a bit of snobbery at work. I think it's great

[ edited by Let Down on 2009-05-31 20:31 ]
There's a movie that makes fun of Jane Austen's critics: "Metropolitan" by Whit Stillman. Highly recommended.
On the last point, I one for one would like to see some same-sex encounters in Dollhouse next year and not just of the f/f kind which Joss is inclined to favour.
You know, if I'd know about this essay a week earlier, I could've incorporated it into my essay for class. The scholarly stuff on Dollhouse is unfortunately lacking this early in the game.

In more relevant news, I really enjoyed reading that. I hope the author continues to write about the series as it progresses. I 'd never really looked at the show from a gothic standpoint, but in a lot of ways, it makes more sense than many other kinds of analysis you could give it.
Riverine wrote:
"Yes, and in a remake of "Young Frankenstein", Alan Tudyk would be perfect in Gene Wilder's part of "Doctor Frahnken-shteen"! Those wild eyes in his lair lab imprint sequence convinced me. And for the late Peter Boyle's part of The Monster, I submit Tahmoh Penikett!"

I'd watch that. Who do we like for Frau Blucher [evil death whinny]? And Teri Garr's part? I'm thinking Fran Kranz for Eye-gor.

Actually, this is probably one of those movies that should never be remade. It's pretty damned near perfect as is. Fun conjecturing, though...
Tin Ear tom: Yes, why don't they remake soem movies thatw ere screwed up the first time instead of good stuff? (Of coruse now YF ahs the full musical version....)

Liam MArs: I don't think that can really be pinned on Joss. (well, not entirely; what I mean is he can transcend his guy-itude.) It's a system in which he and everyone has to play.
Very nice read. New angle on Dollhouse and I learned what gothic style is. Sweet.
Good stuff on the literary gothic connections. If I hadn't already seen all of Dollhouse that's been aired so far, it would have made me want to see it for the first time.

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